I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!
Jenny Martin and I crossed paths on the massive glory that is the internet because we have kinda similar interests (ahem - YA librarians and writers) - and then we lost each other. Some time passed. I got an agent. She got an agent. I signed up for Twitter and pretty soon somebody named Jenny Martin followed me. I twiddled my thumbs for a bit, cause being named Jenny Martin isn't exactly like being named Paolo Bacigalupi. It could be her, it could not be her. I finally bit the bullet and sent a DM that said something like, "Hey - I think I know you, right? Didn't we talk to each other about library stuff? Or are you reading this thinking, uh... UNFOLLOW the creepy chick."
And Hooray! It was indeed the right Jenny Martin, who agreed to do an SAT that I have tweaked a bit to cover the oh-so-important topic of critiquing. In addition to writing novels, Jenny’s a librarian, a baker, and a certified Beatle-maniac. She sometimes answers to the name SCARLET WHISPER, Librarian/Rockstar/International Jewel Thief. As a librarian, Jenny is a member of the ALA, TLA, and AASL. As a writer, she’s a member of DFW Writers’ Workshop. As a Beatle-maniac Baker, she belongs to the imaginary Fab Four Stickybuns Society.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
Oh, I’m definitely a planner. Now, I don’t do a bunch of character studies or charts or outlines. I just free write basic plot and character ideas before I start a book. It’s just a messy word document that evolves as the book grows. I call it a story skeleton. It is the skariest skeleton you’ll ever meet, actually.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
Since I have a super busy day job in the library, I really only have to time write on evenings and weekends. And I don’t write every single day. I write in bursts, a few pages or a few chapters here and there. If I start a book in August, I can easily finish it by April. In the summer, I have way more time and can write faster.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
I pretty much work on one project at a time. Although I do jot down ideas for other books. I do that all the time. Sheesh. I don’t know how people can bounce back and forth between books. I suspect my pistachio sized brain couldn’t handle a day job plus more than one book at a time.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
Yes. Call me Eeyore. Really. I am my own worst critic. I have NEVER had a moment when I felt absolutely confident about my writing. I’m always plagued by self-doubt. But maybe that’s not such a terrible thing. The angst drives me to improve. I’m always trying to learn and get better.
How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
Um, none? Sorta? I guess? Although I signed with my agent for my second book, at least one offer of representation was for both my first and second book. (But seriously, I must disclose that my first book is TERRIBLE. I shall never let anyone this side of Antarctica read it. Ever.)
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I quit on revising my first book when I began to query my second. Although I had gotten a lot of requests for it, and a lot of detailed agent feedback, I finally realized it just wasn’t good enough. I was (and am still) an emerging writer. I needed to let that book go. My advice? It takes time and practice to develop your writing voice. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a project that’s not working. Just write the next book and keep working at getting better. I see many a writer who won’t let go of his or her first novel. These scribblers are too close a project to see that it’s just. not. working.
Jenny Martin's Very Accurate Query Thoughts:
With both my books, I wore out google during the search for an agent. I research agent interviews and blogs. No way was I going to toilet paper Manhattan with my query. I was very targeted in approaching agents and I queried in small batches. With my first book, there were a LOT of small batches. With my second book, I only sent a few.
My advice? If you’ve sent out sixty or more queries and you’re not getting a lot of requests and a lot of feedback, then you need to seriously re-evaluate your project and/or your query. It very well may be a sign you need to move on and grow by writing something new.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My agent is Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger Agency. I queried Sara after reading her blog. I had originally noticed that she represented Lisa Schroeder and I’d read I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME a really poignant novel in verse. Since I loved Lisa’s book so much, I suspected I might like the agent behind the project, too. As luck would have it, I was right! I cold queried Sara, and she requested my second book.
I feel very fortunate to have Sara as my agent. Although I’d worked with another agent before (a terrific professional and a super cool friend, I might add), Sara was one of the first agents to show interest in my work. I’m so glad she took me on! My journey as a writer has taken a few unexpected twists and turns, but everything has worked out so well.
A “just right” fit with an agent is priceless. And Sara is that “just right” agent for me. She’s terrific--a true pro with an amazing track record. She always seems to know just the right thing to say to encourage and spur me on. I can’t say enough about how hard she works. Her commitment and industry savvy are unmatched.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
For my first book, I queried for months and months. I e-mailed queried lots of agents, but I realize now that my first book was…icky. With my second book, I sent about two dozen queries. Out of that number, I had eleven full and partial requests which led to a few offers within a month’s time period.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
Stop worrying so much about that blasted query and start focusing on your writing! I know, I know, I can see you rolling your eyes out there. I hear you groaning. But listen up: no amount of query magic will conjure an offer if your book isn’t amazing. With my first book, I had an amazing query, but my novel was absolute rubbish.
But you know what? I didn’t rewrite the same query three thousand times. Instead, I started writing something new. I started reading ON WRITING by Stephen King, WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass,SECOND SIGHT by Cheryl Klein, WRITING GREAT BOOKS FOR YOUNG ADULTS by Regina Brooks. And I also joined a local writers’ group called DFW Workshop. All those things helped shape my work. All those things helped me to develop my writing voice and conquer the query process.
And here’s the thing….if I had just kept beating the dead horse that was my first novel, I’d still be…well, I’d be sitting in the corner mumbling and weeping. And I’d still be a terrible writer. But look at me now! Now I’m only semi-terrible. Ish.
How much of your own marketing do you?
I have a blog. It’s semi-pathetic, so feel free to stop by and heckle!
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
I began blogging and reviewing as a librarian before I finished my first book. I also started tweeting as @jmartinlibrary. Twitter works really well for me.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
Yes…but I think every writer should choose what’s most comfortable for them. I tweet and blog, but that’s just what I enjoy. If you try to blog, but you don’t really write about anything but your 100% organic cat hair knitting projects, it’s just not going to work. If you’re not comfortable with blogging or tumblr or twitter, then don’t do it. Find what works for you.
Another thing, for the love of Foo Fighters, *don’t* call yourself a “social media expert.” And don’t just tweet and post about yourself. “Hey, for the sixth time today, let me tweet and link you to my new kindle e-book, A Series of Unpleasant, Eye Stabbing Adverbs! PLEEZ RT!”
DUDE. Don’t be THAT GUY. Just interact and be a nice, interesting person. Be real. That’s what builds a platform and develops connections.
Do you use betas and if so, how did you find them?
I actually don’t use a lot of betas. I only have a few regular critique partners and I found them through writers’ workshop. I know a lot of people who really get a lot out of online critique groups, but I trust my crit buddies at workshop more than anything. They rock!
From my agent sibling Jeff Hirsh, here’s the world’s best blog post on giving and getting critique. It’s a must read.
What’s your process when digesting the crits?
First I do nothing. For three days, I do not pass go, I do not open that word document. I just let the crits sink in. After three days, I get to work. Also, if the crits come from my agent, I pretty much go with it. If they come from a trusted crit partner, I almost always seriously consider them. If they are from some random McCrazypants bystander, I run far, far away.
Do you run your ms past betas before taking it to your agent, even though you’re already repped?
Not really. I mean, I let my husband and my best friend read it. But other than that, I pretty much just send it to Sara. I trust her. If something needs work, she’ll have good advice.